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A Guide to Les Invalides, Napoleon’s Tomb and Army Museum

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Les Invalides is a museum complex of historic buildings in Paris, France. The museum now contains the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte and a large collection of weapons and armor, among many other treasures. It was originally built to house wounded and retired soldiers, where it gets its name.

Napoleon is one of the most famous military leaders in history, and his resting place can be found at Les Invalides in Paris. The complex also contains a museum dedicated to the history of the French Army.

If you are considering a trip to Paris, there are many things to see and do in the vibrant city. France’s capital is known for being a major European metropolis with abundant natural beauty, but it is also a land teeming with amazing tourist attractions and historical landmarks.

But one thing left underrated as a place to visit for history buffs is Les Invalides, especially if you like military history. If you’re planning a trip to Paris, be sure to add Les Invalides to your list of places to see.

Les Invalides History

Sunlight illuminates Les Invalides interior with ornate details
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Hôtel des Invalides, Hôtel Royal des Invalides, commonly called Les Invalides, is a must-see attraction when visiting Paris. Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, was the king of France from 1643 to 1715. During his long reign, he made many important changes to French society and government.

He is best remembered for his great artistic and architectural achievements, as well as for leading France in the War of the Spanish Succession.

Louis XIV was a great patron of the arts and supported many artists, including Michelangelo and Bernini. He also loved architecture, and under his rule, France saw the construction of many beautiful buildings, including the Palace of Versailles.

Les Invalides Role as a Hospital

Paris Cityscape and Les Invalides

In 1664, Louis XIV decided to build a hospital home for retired soldiers – the first of its kind in the world. The king was very fond of the military and wanted to provide a place for wounded soldiers to retire once they had completed their service – lest they be turned out onto the streets and forgotten, as was very common.

The hospital was completed in 1676 and was named Hôpital des Invalides. The original building was very small and could only accommodate a few hundred people. It also contained a church and two chapels.

In 1789, the French Revolution began, and Hôtel des Invalides became a symbol of the monarchy with the royal chapel called the Dome Church (Église du Dôme). The revolutionaries attacked Les Invalides and set fire to the building.

After the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor of France. Without any trace of irony or a sense of hypocrisy, the revolutionary commander greatly admired Louis XIV. Much of this admiration was built on their mutual appreciation of the fighting man, so he decided to restore Les Invalides to its former glory.

Napoleon rebuilt the building and added a new wing – which would be needed as the Little Corporal began his plans for world domination. During the Napoleonic Wars, Les Invalides rapidly filled with wounded French soldiers who were brought there for treatment and to live out the rest of their days with the grateful nation footing the bill. This wing now contains Napoleon’s eternal resting place.

Les Invalides Paris Hours & Admission

Front of Dome of Napoleon
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Hôtel des Invalides – Paris, France, is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm. The tomb of Napoleon is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm.

The Army Museum in Les Invalides is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 pm. Admission to the Hôtel des Invalides, the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Army Museum is all included in one ticket price.

We recommend that you book your ticket in advance through GetYourGuide so you can skip the line and enjoy this iconic Paris museum more efficiently.

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Napolean’s Tomb Tour

Napoleon's Tomb in Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Napoleon Bonaparte was among the notable military minds of the French Revolutionary forces. During the French Revolution, he rose to fame as a military and political leader in France. The Tomb of Napoleon is located in the center of Paris at the beautiful Dôme des Invalides (also known as the Golden Dome).

Invalides Chapel or Saint-Jérôme Chapel, constructed by Jules-Hardouin Mansart at the end of the 17th Century, houses Napoleon’s tomb. It was later decided to enclose the remains of Napoleon in a beautifully sculpted casket of a red igneous rock known as porphyry.

The fascinating background of Napoleon’s Tomb

Napoleon's Tomb with His Horse Above the Tomb
Napoleon’s Tomb with His Horse Above the Tomb

From 1808 to 1815, Napoleon visited the hospital and paid his forces several visits to thank them for the victories they had won for him.

In 1815, following Napoleon’s defeat and exile, the Hôtel des Invalides housed almost 5,000 survivors of the once-feared Great Army. Many would be buried around Les Invalides, including Napoleon.

The remains of Napoleon Bonaparte were returned to France by ship from the island of Saint Helena approximately 20 years after his death. In 1840, Saint-Jérôme Chapel was designated as his final resting place.

The tomb’s structure was designed by Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, an architect during Napoleon III’s reign. The project took nine years to complete and was finished in 1861.

Napoleon’s body was retrieved from the site of his guarded exile in 1841 after the British government decided that France was past dreams of global domination. The renowned leader received a decent burial in France, finally bringing French citizens together to mourn.

The Emperor’s ashes are buried in this mausoleum, created by renowned sculptor Louis Visconti. Five distinct urns contain the Emperor’s remains, entombed in a crypt at the Dôme des Invalides. Napoleon’s two brothers are also entombed here.

The tomb is guarded by the massive Winged Victory of Samothrace, sculpted by French artist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. The statue was completed in 1864 and has been at the site ever since. It is a beautiful and serene sight to behold.

How to get to Napolean’s Tomb

The Tomb of Napoleon is easily accessible and a good distance away from the city center. You will find the mausoleum within a 20-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. Alternatively, to walk to the mausoleum, you can take a bus to the nearby Invalides station.

When visiting Les Invalides, it is ideal to visit in the morning as it’s the best time to avoid the crowds for a more peaceful visit, allowing you to explore the location by yourself or with your group. The mausoleum’s busiest hours are in the afternoon when most tourists arrive.

What to see on your visit to Napolean’s Tomb

Statues in Napolean's Tomb

When you visit the Golden Dome, you’ll have the chance to view not only Napolean’s Tomb but also the amazing dome that houses it, studded with marble and other precious stones.

The building includes a unique underground museum containing artifacts from Napoleon’s campaigns, including pieces from all over Europe, as well as artifacts from Russia and Egypt.

In addition to seeing the tomb and exquisite furnishings that surround it, you will also be given an in-depth insight into one of Paris’ most famous landmarks throughout your visit.

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Musee D’Army

Flag of France on the Top of Musée de l'Armée

The Musée de l’Armée, commonly known as the Army Museum in English, is one of Paris’s most popular places. It is connected to the Hôtel des Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb, making visiting these historic monuments a breeze. 

The exhibits are spread across 8,000 square meters of the Musée de l’Armée floor space. Consequently, the Musée de l’Armée is the largest military history museum in Paris and France. 

Also, it is recognized to be one of the most important military museums in the world. From the Middle Ages to today, over 500,000 artifacts relating to French military history are on display in the museum’s collection.  

The exhibits are fascinatingly laid out by period, from the French Revolution to World War II. In addition, a special permanent exhibit dedicated to Charles de Gaulle is a must-see.

It was established in 1905, immediately following the World Fair, and is the consequence of the amalgamation of the Musée d’Artillerie (Artillery Museum), which first opened its doors in 1796, and the Musée des Arts et des Sciences (Museum of Arts and Sciences).

A component of the beautiful and ancient Hôtel des Invalides, the Cathédrale de Saint-Louis-des-Invalides, is connected to this museum. It is an attraction that doubles as a historical site and museum, displaying historical military artifacts.

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How to get to the Army Museum (Musee D’Army)

The Musee D’Army is easily accessible, as there are multiple ways to get to the museum complex. Walking, biking, or taking a cab to Invalides are all options for getting to the Musee D’Army. Several bus routes pass by the museum.

The Musee D’Army Collection

Musee D’Army is home to a plethora of interesting exhibits and displays. The impressive and extensive collection of military-related exhibits will enthrall you.

Numerous displays may also be found at the Army Museum, another attraction you can visit with your pass to the Army Museum. Thanks to its vast floor space, it features a courtyard with cannon exhibitions and armor and weapons from the 13th and 17th Centuries.

The permanent collections are exhibited in a sequence in which the historical military items are represented through different historical periods. Some displays span from early ages to the collections gathered from the end of the Second World War to contemporary military exhibits. 

It also has many artifacts related to a specific theme, such as logos, paintings, portraits, documents, medals, and other military decorations. 

For example, several medal of Adolf Hitler and his journal are located within the museum.

WWII military medals and journal exhibit at Les Invalides Museum, Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The displays are either shown as part of the historical exhibitions or grouped in distinct sections across the museum’s premises. The Army Museum can be visited independently, or you can join a guided tour to learn more about it.

You can also detour via the Musée de l’Ordre de la Libération, also known as the Museum of the Order of Liberation. You can also visit the Musée des Plans-Reliefs and the Museum of Relief Maps.

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Other Attractions in Paris to Visit

Notre Dame Cathedral Gothic facade with twin towers and rose window in Paris
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Paris is also a leading hub for delectable cuisine, a thriving art scene, incredible nightlife, and a booming fashion industry. A visit to the city is an invitation to go on a fascinating and scenic journey.

The Eiffel Tower is the most well-known and popular monument in Paris. You can see it from many places in the city.

If you want to, you can also walk down the Champs-Elysees. This famous road is exceedingly pretty and goes to the Louvre Museum.

The Louvre is the world’s largest museum for art, and it is currently home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa – the most famous portrait in the world. Some other places you may want to visit in Paris are the Notre Dame Cathedral, Versailles Palace, the Arc de Triomphe, and Sacre-Coeur Basilica.

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Paris Cityscape and Les Invalides at Night

Hôtel National des Invalides, Napoleon’s Tomb, and the Army Museum are top tourist attractions that should be included in your Paris itinerary. 

A tour of the Hôtel des Invalides (conveniently located between two remarkable Paris landmarks) provides an opportunity to witness not only its beauty but also the incredible architecture of the building.

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